One of my first experiences of British culture was Bonfire Night. For those who don’t know, Bonfire Night is in remembrance of the capture of Guy Fawkes and his accomplices in the infamous Gunpowder Plot that was meant to blow up the existing parliament of the time. Since those times, people have been burning effigies of Guy Fawkes and others on November 5th.
We went to one Bonfire Night event and had planned to go to more, but the weather was not very cooperative. It was drizzling and cold the night we went. Yet, it did not diminish the celebration at all. It was unbelievable how much more elaborate Bonfire Night was as compared to the Fourth of July celebrations I’ve seen in the US.
The night started with a procession of various groups in masked costumes. Each group had torch bearers and the whole effect was quite gothic. Especially when they had one group carrying an effigy of Guy Fawkes. Once the effigy reached the bonfire, they light this massive structure of tree branches and add their torches to it. This one also burned some huge teddy bears. (We heard that one bonfire was going to have an effigy of Sarah Palin – we did not authenticate this.) Being a cold and rainy night, we welcomed the warmth from this huge fire.
During this entire time, several organizer members were throwing off fireworks. When the real display came, it was fantastic. For a full half-hour, fireworks were continually being let off and in the end, a Guy Fawkes image was blown up. Having been used to short firework displays in the US during July 4th and New Year’s Eve, I was very surprised at the quantity and quality of fireworks on Bonfire Night. In the US, they tend to have fireworks for about 10 minutes, with a major let-off at the end, so that you knew it was the finale. Here, it was continuous for 30 minutes and you didn’t know when they’d be done until Guy Fawkes blew up.
This Bonfire Night display took place several days before Guy Fawkes Day. Unlike the Fourth of July, Bonfire Night is an extended event, taking place several days before Halloween and ending several days after Guy Fawkes Day. That may be one reason why Halloween is practically ignored over here, to my daughters’ disappointment. It is overshadowed by Bonfire Night. Driving around the country at night during the two weeks surrounding Guy Fawkes Day, you can see various firework displays in different towns and by individuals as well. We saw a very nice one from our window – we didn’t know whether it was from our village or the adjacent one.